Skip to main content Accessibility help

Ecological Characteristics of Sites Invaded by Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare)

  • Scott R. Abella (a1), Lindsay P. Chiquoine (a1) and Dana M. Backer (a1)


Understanding the ecological characteristics of areas invaded and not invaded by exotic plants is a priority for invasive plant science and management. Buffelgrass is an invasive perennial species that managers view as a major threat to indigenous ecosystems of conservation lands in Australia, Mexico, the United States, and other locations where the species is not native. At 14 sites in Saguaro National Park in the Arizona Uplands of the Sonoran Desert, we compared the soil, vegetation, and soil seed bank of patches invaded and not invaded by buffelgrass. Abiotic variables, such as slope aspect and soil texture, did not differ between buffelgrass patches and patches without buffelgrass. In contrast, variables under primarily biotic control differed between patch types. Soil nutrients, such as organic C and NO3–N, were approximately twofold greater in buffelgrass compared with nonbuffelgrass patches. Average native species richness was identical (14 species 100 m−2) between patch types, but native plant cover was 43% lower in buffelgrass patches. Unexpectedly, native seed-bank densities did not differ significantly between patch types and were 40% greater than buffelgrass seed density below buffelgrass canopies. Results suggest that (1) soil nutrient status should not be unfavorable for native plant colonization at buffelgrass sites if buffelgrass is treated; (2) at least in the early stages of buffelgrass patch formation (studied patches were about 10 yr old), native vegetation species were not excluded, but rather, their cover was reduced; and (3) native soil seed banks were not reduced in buffelgrass patches.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author's E-mail:


Hide All
Abella, S. R. 2010. Disturbance and plant succession in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of the American Southwest. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 7:12481284.
Abella, S. R. and Newton, A. C. 2009. A systematic review of species performance and treatment effectiveness for revegetation in the Mojave Desert, USA. Pages 4574 in Fernandez-Bernal, A. and De La Rosa, M. A., eds. Arid Environments and Wind Erosion. Hauppauge, NY : Nova Science.
Bakker, J. P., Poschlod, P., Strykstra, R. J., Bekker, R. M., and Thompson, K. 1996. Seed banks and seed dispersal: important topics in restoration ecology. Acta Bot. Neerl. 45:461490.
Bakker, J. D. and Wilson, S. D. 2004. Using ecological restoration to constrain biological invasion. J. Appl. Ecol. 41:10581064.
Beers, T. W., Dress, P. E., and Wensel, L. C. 1966. Aspect transformation in site productivity research. J. Forestry 64:691692.
Blank, R. R. 2008. Biogeochemistry of plant invasion: a case study with downy brome (Bromus tectorum). Invasive Plant Sci. Manag. 1:226238.
Brown, C. S., Anderson, V. J., Claassen, V. P., et al. 2008. Restoration ecology and invasive plants in the semiarid West. Invasive Plant Sci. Manag. 1:399413.
Brown, D. E., ed. 1994. Biotic Communities: Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. Salt Lake City, UT : University of Utah Press. 342 p.
Burt, R., ed. 2004. Soil Survey Laboratory Methods Manual. Washington, DC : U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Survey Investigations Report 42, Version 4.0. 700 p.
Butterfield, B. J. and Briggs, J. M. 2009. Patch dynamics of soil feedbacks in the Sonoran Desert. J. Arid Environ. 73:96102.
Cabin, R. J. and Mitchell, R. J. 2000. To Bonferroni or not to Bonferroni: when and how are the questions. Bull. Ecol. Soc. Am. 81:246248.
Carrillo-Garcia, A., Bashan, Y., Rivera, D. E., and Bethlenfalvay, J. G. 2000. Effects of resource-island soils, competition, and inoculation with Azospirillum on survival and growth of Pachycereus pringlei, the giant cactus of the Sonoran Desert. Restor. Ecol. 8:6573.
Clarke, P. J., Latz, P. K., and Albrecht, D. E. 2005. Long-term changes in semi-arid vegetation: invasion of a non-native perennial grass has larger effects than rainfall variability. J. Veg. Sci. 16:237248.
Cochran, C. C. and Richardson, M. L. 2003. Soil Survey of Pima County, Arizona, Eastern Part. Washington, DC : U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 353 p.
Corbin, J. and D'Antonio, C. M. 2004. Effects of invasive species on soil nitrogen cycling: implications for restoration. Weed Technol. 18:14641467.
Cox, R. D. and Allen, E. B. 2008. Composition of soil seed banks in southern California coastal sage scrub and adjacent exotic grassland. Plant Ecol. 198:3746.
Daehler, C. C. and Goergen, E. M. 2005. Experimental restoration of an indigenous Hawaiian grassland after invasion by buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris). Restor. Ecol. 13:380389.
Dufrêne, M. and Legendre, P. 1997. Species assemblages and indicator species: the need for a flexible asymmetrical approach. Ecol. Monogr. 67:345366.
Esque, T. C., Schwalbe, C. R., Lissow, J. A., Haynes, D. F., Foster, D., and Garnett, M. C. 2007. Buffelgrass fuel loads in Saguaro National Park increase fire danger and threaten native species. Park Sci. 24:3337.
Franks, A. 2002. The ecological consequences of buffel grass Cenchrus ciliaris establishment within remnant vegetation of Queensland. Pac. Conserv. Biol. 8:99107.
Gioria, M. and Osborne, B. 2010. Similarities in the impact of three large invasive plant species on soil seed bank communities. Biol. Invasions 12:16711683.
Halvorson, W. L. and Patten, D. T. 1975. Productivity and flowering of winter ephemerals in relation to Sonoran Desert shrubs. Am. Midl. Nat. 93:311319.
Hejda, M., Pyšek, P., and Jarošik, V. 2009. Impact of invasive plants on the species richness, diversity and composition of invaded communities. J. Ecol. 97:393403.
Hussain, F., Ahmad, B., and Ilahi, I. 2010. Allelopathic effects of Cenchrus ciliaris L. and Bothriochloa pertusa (L.) A. Camus. Pak. J. Bot. 42:35873604.
Ibarra-Flores, F., Cox, J., Martin-Rivera, M., et al. 1999. Soil physiochemical changes following buffelgrass establishment in Mexico. Arid Soil Res. Rehab. 13:3952.
Jackson, J. 2005. Is there a relationship between herbaceous species richness and buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)? Aust. Ecol. 30:505517.
Jordan, N. R., Larson, D. L., and Huerd, S. C. 2011. Evidence of qualitative differences between soil-occupancy effects of invasive vs. native grassland plant species. Invasive Plant Sci. Manag. 4:1121.
Lyons, K. G., Maldonado-Leal, B. G., and Owen, G. 2013. Community and ecosystem effects of buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) and nitrogen deposition in the Sonoran Desert. Invasive Plant Sci. Manag. In press.
Marshall, V. M., Lewis, M. M., and Ostendorf, B. 2012. Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) as an invader and threat to biodiversity in arid environments: a review. J. Arid Environ. 78:112.
McAuliffe, J. R. 1988. Markovian dynamics of simple and complex desert plant communities. Am. Nat. 131:459490.
McCune, B. and Mefford, M. J. 1999. PC-ORD: Multivariate Analysis of Ecological Data: User's Guide. Gleneden Beach, OR : MjM Software Design. 237 p.
McDonald, C. J. and McPherson, G. R. 2011. Fire behavior characteristics of buffelgrass-fueled fires and native plant community composition in invaded patches. J. Arid Environ. 75:11471154.
McIvor, J. 2003. Competition affects survival and growth of buffelgrass seedlings – is buffelgrass a colonizer or invader? Trop. Grassl. 37:176178.
Morales-Romero, D. and Molina-Freaner, F. 2008. Influence of buffelgrass pasture conversion on the regeneration and reproduction of the columnar cactus, Pachycereus pectin-aboriginum, in northwestern Mexico. J. Arid Environ. 72:228237.
Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2011. The PLANTS Database Baton Rouge, LA : National Plant Data Center. Accessed: August 15, 2011.
Olsson, A. D., Betancourt, J., McClaran, M. P., and Marsh, S. E. 2012. Sonoran Desert ecosystem transformation by a C4 grass without the grass/fire cycle. Divers. Distrib. 18:1021.
Parker, I. M., Simberloff, D., Lonsdale, W. M., et al. 1999. Impact: toward a framework for understanding the ecological effects of invaders. Biol. Invasions 1:319.
Parker, S. S. and Schimel, J. P. 2010. Invasive grasses increase nitrogen availability in California grassland soils. Invasive Plant Sci. Manag. 3:4047.
Peet, R. K., Wentworth, T. R., and White, P. S. 1998. A flexible, multipurpose method for recording vegetation composition and structure. Castanea 63:262274.
Rodríguez-Buriticá, S. and Miriti, M. N. 2009. Biting the hand that feeds: the invasive grass Schismus barbatus (Poaceae) is facilitated by, but reduces establishment of, the native shrub Ambrosia dumosa (Asteraceae). J. Veg. Sci. 20:241250.
Rutman, S. and Dickson, L. 2002. Management of buffelgrass on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. Pages 311318 in Tellman, B., ed. Invasive exotic species in the Sonoran region. Tucson, AZ : University of Arizona Press and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Sands, J. P., Brennan, L. A., Hernández, F., Kuvlesky, W. P., Gallagher, J. F., Ruthven, D. C., and Pittman, J. E. 2009. Impacts of buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) on a forb community in South Texas. Invasive Plant Sci. Manag. 2:130140.
SAS Institute. 2009. SAS/STAT 9.2 User's Guide. Cary, NC : SAS Institute. 7869 p.
Stevens, J. and Falk, D. A. 2009. Can buffelgrass invasions be controlled in the American Southwest? using invasion ecology theory to understand buffelgrass success and develop comprehensive restoration and management. Ecol. Restor. 27:417427.
Tan, K. H. 2005. Soil sampling, preparation, and analysis. Boca Raton, FL : CRC. 680 p.
Tjelmeland, A. D., Fulbright, T. E., and Lloyd-Reilley, J. 2008. Evaluation of herbicides for restoring native grasses in buffelgrass-dominated grasslands. Restor. Ecol. 16:263269.
Vilà, M. and Gimeno, I. 2007. Does invasion by an alien plant species affect the soil seed bank? J. Veg. Sci. 18:423430.
[WRCC] Western Regional Climate Center. 2011. Western U.S. Historical Climate Summaries. Reno, NV : Western Regional Climate Center. Accessed: December 31, 2011.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Abella supplementary material
Appendix 1

 Word (63 KB)
63 KB
Supplementary materials

Abella supplementary material
Appendix 2

 Word (80 KB)
80 KB
Supplementary materials

Abella supplementary material
Appendix 3

 Word (84 KB)
84 KB

Ecological Characteristics of Sites Invaded by Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare)

  • Scott R. Abella (a1), Lindsay P. Chiquoine (a1) and Dana M. Backer (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed